It was a dark and stormy night in 1970. No, really, it was. I was only 10 years old standing outside of a pub in Germany that overlooked the Rhine River. But, I couldn’t see the river, because it was such a dark and stormy night. No rain yet, but scary enough for a 10 year old. It was late, and the pub would probably close in an hour or two…or three. And I was thirsty.
Oh, and I was with my brother who was 12-1/2 years old. And my Mom who was 35.
My 40 year old Dad was in the pub.
This sounds like an awful scenario. Dad drinking in a German pub, leaving his family stranded outside to weather the storm. But, it wasn’t like that.
We had taken a train to this town, and my Dad simply assumed that we could catch a taxi to our castle. Well, not OUR castle, but the castle he had arranged for us to stay in (by letters sent months earlier) for $25 that night. However, the train station was tiny, and closed after we arrived. So there we were, luggage in hand (luggage didn’t have rollers back then…at least, ours didn’t), having walked to the pub across from the train station. My Dad assumed that children weren’t allowed in the pub (not sure if that would have been the case back then in Germany, but would have been the case in the U.S.), so he left us outside with Mom.
He didn’t speak German, but somehow managed to explain our dilemma, and the bartender called a taxi for us. Thirty minutes, probably more, passed on that dark and stormy night (no rain yet) as we waited. Finally a good looking young man showed up in his Mercedes. He apologized for being late because he wanted to wash his car, take a shower and change his clothes before picking us up.
But, let me backpedal here for a second. My Mom was with my brother and me while we waited outside. I shuddered at the darkness, having always been afraid of it since I was very young. But, my Mom pointed out the beauty of the area, and had us listen to the jubilant sounds of the gentlemen who were inside the pub drinking beer. She assured us that we were safe, and in good company of the earth and humans.
I felt safe as time passed. Um, until the “taxi” driver drove at crazy speeds on the unpaved switchbacks (no safety rails on the sides) up to our castle. We got there in record time, and I’m pretty sure my Dad paid him a healthy tip after he dropped us off at the gate. The driver sped away gleefully, and there we stood, outside these giant iron gates that clank-clanked open and shut as the wind picked up. There were no lights, and this was as close to Dracula’s mansion as anything I’d ever witnessed. My Mom told us kids to stand back until she and my Dad could make sure that they could hold one of the gates open, and then we passed through.
“Well, the lobby shouldn’t be too far away! Isn’t this amazing?” my Mom said, her gorgeous blue eyes the only light flashing in the night.
And, she was right. It wasn’t a lobby per se, but a tiny, packed, delicious smelling restaurant with buxom Frauleins or Fraus (not sure if I have my German correct here) wielding giant beer steins in both hands as they served the guests. It was right out of a movie.
Very soon after, we were guided up old rickety outdoor castle stairs to our room. It was gorgeously rustic. Mom and Dad were anxious to join the festivities and drinking downstairs, and Mom told us to take a bath. She started to draw the water, and the tub filled with a heavy scent of sulfur, and the bathwater looked kind of red-rocky orange.
“Oh! That’s just sulfur, and the orange is iron from the pipes. It’s good for you! That’s what my water looked like when I was growing up!” my Mom exclaimed so cheerfully, you’d think we’d just won a new car.
We took a quick bath in the rare and beautiful water, and then snuggled into our beds under the eiderdown covers. I never felt so comfortable in a bed. But, I was feeling kind of scared.
“Do you think there are ghosts here?” I asked my brother. He was already nearly asleep and muttered, “No. Go to sleep, Summy.”
At that moment the door to our room blew open, banged against the wall, and then shut again. I bolted upright. My brother jumped up and said, “It’s probably just Mommy and Daddy.” He cautiously went to the door and opened it, and stepped outside. They weren’t there. “It was probably just the wind,” he said, with trepidation in his voice.
Now we were both wide awake. Thankfully our parents appeared just a minute later. My Mom listened to us rattle on about the door opening and shutting. I was near tears. My Mom held me close, realizing she had perhaps pushed the envelope a little too far on this dark and stormy night.
“That was me, sweetheart. I thought I’d play a joke, and opened and shut the door.”
“But, I didn’t see you, Mommy,” my brother said, “And I went out right away.”
(Oh gads. As I write this, 51 years later, I now wonder if my Mom was covering for some playful spirit who scared the hell out of us! There was nowhere for my parents to hide on that rickety walkway, and no way they could have escaped my brother’s sight that quickly. Hmm…)
We all went to bed, and toured the castle the next day. I can assure you that I felt the presence of many spirits. But, it was my Mom’s playful spirit that made the greatest difference in my life. She was the calm in the dark and stormy night, pointing out the beauty of every moment. She was playful (or perhaps protective) when that door opened and closed to our room.